The idea of voting a trustworthy village head had never occurred
to Zhao Yongxiu, a 50-year-old farmer in Dawang village of Hebei
Province about 400 km from Beijing, until the arrival of a new
assistant village head with a college degree.
"We had never cared about who was in the position because the
appointment of 'leaders' had nothing to do with us ordinary
people," said Zhao, who used to take it for granted that "leaders"
made decisions and the villagers they followed.
But Zhao and 1,300 other villagers changed their minds after
Zhao Shufang, 27, came to work as their assistant village head
shortly after graduating from Nankai University in Tianjin, one of
the country's most leading universities, in July 2005.
"At the beginning, the villagers had little awareness of
democracy. They even didn't know they had the right to vote and
stand to be elected. The village heads didn't let villagers have
their say, which often led to quarrels and scraps," Zhao Shufang
"Only when the villagers trust their leaders can they live in
harmony and work together to achieve wealth," she said. "But when I
tried to talk about it with people, their first response was 'not
Over one month she visited more than 300 households and finally
talked them into voting.
"Zhao is a college graduate and she knows the law. After
listening to her, we began to understand our rights. Last year, I
voted for a person I trust," the farmer Zhao Yongxiu said.
In addition to the village head, the villagers also voted to
elect 20 representatives in last year's election, which almost all
the villagers attended.
"The villagers now vigorously participate in voting those they
like and trust and the village heads will consult villagers before
making decisions," said the vice party secretary Duan Shuguo.
Duan credits the change in attitude towards voting in rural
areas to college-graduate village heads like Zhao Shufang, who
brought fresh ideas to the countryside.
From June 2005, the Chinese government has guided and encouraged
college graduates to work in rural areas with the goal of
installing at least one college graduate in every village within
three to five years.
Zhao is one of the tens of thousands college-graduate village
officials across the country.
This year, the central government will expand democracy at the
community level, improve the system for transparency in government,
factory and village affairs, and ensure that people are able to
exert their democratic rights in accordance with the law, Chinese
Premier Wen Jiabao said on March 5 in his work report.
"College graduates are more knowledgeable and open-minded. Their
work in villages is conducive to speeding up overall rural
development," said Dong Jingwei, a member of the National Committee
of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference
This year's "No. 1 document" issued jointly by the State
Council, China's cabinet and the Central Committee of the Communist
Party of China, reiterates the policy of encouraging college
graduates and secondary vocational school graduates to work in
villages to boost rural development.
In Beijing, 2,000 college graduates were selected last year to
work as village party secretaries. The Beijing municipal government
has announced that another 3,000 college graduates will work as
village officials this year.
The shrinking job market in urban areas has made more college
graduates choose to work in rural areas since the government
promised them priority when seeking new jobs in governmental
departments or large companies after three years of service in
"But there is still a long way to go before the village heads
really embrace and practice grass-roots democracy," said National
People's Congress deputy Guo Chengzhi, also a village head. "They
are used to having the only say and are still rooted to the
(Xinhua News Agency March 14, 2007)